Does Your Blog Design Matter?

Blog Traffic Tips Weekly Newsletter

by Yaro Starak – The Blog Traffic King

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My very first blog was published on the MovableType blogging software using the default design. Because MovableType uses a custom coding language I had trouble changing the layout beyond basic text elements, so most of the time I focused on producing content.

Steve Pavlina, who blogs at www.stevepavlina.com/blog, uses the default WordPress blog system installation with a little design customization to include navigation and advertising. It’s far from the prettiest of blogs you will find online, but it’s certainly in the top one percent in terms of traffic.

Many blog readers use an RSS feedreader exclusively to track their favorite blog. If you provide full feeds to your audience they never have a reason to come and visit your blog to see your design.

All this really has to make you wonder –

Does blog design impact traffic?

If content is king, why pay attention to anything else?

When I decided to move my blog into its own identity with its own domain name and purpose, I also decided to have a custom design created.

I could have gone with one of the very good free themes available for WordPress (by this point I had switched from MovableType to WordPress), and I did just that for many months, but when it came time to take blogging seriously I decided it was also time to take blog design serious too.

HERE’S WHAT I THINK

If you ask me whether I think blog design is important I will say YES.

If you ask me whether I think a good blog design will positively impact your traffic I will also say YES.

The crucial point though, is to realize that a good blog design means nothing without good content.

Without pillar articles, regular content and time spent attracting readers to your blog using comments, trackbacks, networking with bloggers and attracting links, the nicest design you could dream of won’t do anything for your traffic.

If you haven’t the financial resources to outsource design or the skills to do it yourself, don’t prioritize blog design over content creation. I’ve known plenty of bloggers who “hold off” starting a blog project because they want to launch with a unique design.

The lack of a unique design is just a mental roadblock you give yourself as an excuse not to start taking your blog serious. Design is not a critical element of a successful blog – only content is – so don’t let your lack of a unique design stop you from working one hundred percent on your blog.

Build a solid foundation of content, if possible create an income stream from your blog and then have that custom design built for you.

Adding a unique look to an already successful blog is like icing on the cake – but the cake should still taste good without the icing. The lack of a custom design must never be a project-killer.

MY CUSTOM BLOG DESIGN

You can see my first custom blog design at http://www.Entrepreneurs-Journey.com

When I had my blog look revamped I worked with my designer by sketching on paper what I wanted. We met face-to-face and I explained my goals in terms of functionality and design. I showed him some elements from other blogs and sites that I liked and he went away and created a design image. We went back and forth with changes until I was happy, then he spliced the image and laid the code down on to my blog.

There were several key reasons I went with a custom design:

  • I was fed up and frustrated with my own efforts at modifying the WordPress theme I was manually hacking. At some point you really need to hand over to the professionals.
  • I wanted to lay the foundation for future income by embedding specific banner and text advertising positions in my blog design.
  • Since I was enjoying success with podcasts I wanted to be one of the first bloggers to include audio in a blog design.
  • My path was taking me towards becoming a blogging expert and a unique and professional blog design would add credence to this image.

HOW A CUSTOM DESIGN INCREASES BLOG TRAFFIC

I’ve received praise from readers and other bloggers about my blog design. I know for a fact that some people bookmark my blog specifically because of the design.

Not everyone likes it of course – but if you can publish something unique, functional and eye-catching it will directly improve your traffic.

The most important outcome you should aim for, and this is something that some designers forget, is enhancing the presentation of your content.

The idea of good design is to make good content even better, easier to read and to guide your audience to the focal points you want to highlight. A good blog design shows readers what they should read first and grabs attention immediately.

If you break new ground, as I did by using audio in my blog design, you can capture attention and links purely because of your innovation. People like to link to and share things they find impressive and there is no reason why your blog design cannot be impressive.

A custom design also demonstrates your commitment to your project. Readers are more likely to invest energy in your blog when they see you are investing energy in it. Not many people will spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on a blog design that they don’t intend to put time and effort into. It does happen sometimes of course – there is no doubt a graveyard of beautiful blogs out there – but you certainly make an implied statement about your intent with a custom design.

ONE, TWO OR THREE COLUMN DESIGN?

One of the most common questions related to blog design is how many columns to use. My current blogs use three and two column designs and if you asked me a year ago I would have said go with a three column design because you can fit more content, features and advertising in.

Now I recommend a two column design because it’s simpler. Again the importance of focusing on content presentation is paramount and a basic two column design with nice big fonts generally does better than a three column design.

Three columns are hard to keep from appearing cluttered and if you attempt to restrict your design to a certain width, or you want to accommodate standard banner sizes, you may end up with tiny fonts or a lack of whitespace – two elements that can reduce the clarity of your content.

A top designer can work wonders, but it’s important to have your goals and layout brief in mind before hiring one. My best advice is to plan your elements first, consider what you want to highlight as your primary and secondary content features, what areas you want to devote to advertising and where your RSS feed links should go (at the top of course! – remember the past newsletter on the RSS feed button).

IF YOU CAN’T GO CUSTOM, GO WORDPRESS THEME

Once again the wonderful WordPress community provides an abundance of high quality free resources for bloggers. If you blog on WordPress and for whatever reason a custom theme is not an option, start browsing all the wonderful no-cost themes available to you – there are literally hundreds – maybe even thousands!

To start browsing WordPress themes go to –

http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/

NEED A GOOD BLOG DESIGNER?

If you have the cash – and that’s anywhere from $200 – $5000 USD per design, you can hire yourself a professional blog designer. Remember, these people specialize in BLOG design, not generic web design, so you get to work with someone who “gets blogging”.

Try either of these two designers that I can recommend because I’ve seen and been impressed by their work:

http://www.solostream.com/
http://www.theblogstudio.com/

Here’s to your blogging success,

Yaro Starak
Blog Traffic King

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